Is The Korean War Really Over?

It has been sixty years since the armistice was declared between North and South Korea, which brought the end of a war in the Korean Peninsula. Despite the limited land space, the Korean War was tremendously destructive: It wiped out the Korean Industry base and caused huge casualties. South Korea, through the highly accelerated economic growth during the 1980s, miraculously transformed from the ashes of the Korean War to a wealthy and highly developed country. However, can we say that South Korea, as a separated nation from North Korea, has completely moved on from the traces of the war?

The Korean War seems forgotten; however, the Korean War resulted in the tragic division of a country, which is still causing tension in South Korea. The Korean War divided Korea into two politically opposing countries, sowing the seeds of an endless conflict in the Korean Peninsula. Before the Korean War, the division between the north and south was seen as temporary by both regimes. In 1948, Korea was separated into two occupation zones with the United States occupying the southern half of the peninsula and Soviet Union taking the northern part (Lew 38).

The division was originally due to the global tension between the two great powers, not the conflicts within Korea. Korea, as one nation, believed that the country would be and must be reunified. However, the outbreak of the Korean War became a starting point of a building political tension in the Korean Peninsula. The three-year-long internecine war essentially broke the relation between the two zones, leading them to develop into individual countries with opposing systems of government: communist North Korea and democratic South Korea (Lew 40).

With this huge difference in politics between the two Koreas, the use of military force seemed inevitable for reunification. As a consequence, the political tension appears in the form of infiltrations and incursions across the border largely by North Korean military agents. According to a research, North Korea has violated the armistice 221 times, and a total of 3,693 armed North Korean agents infiltrated into South Korea between 1954 to 1992 (Nanto 4).

With Lee Myung Bak’s election to presidency in 2008, South Korea ended the unconditional and unilateral aid provided to North Korea for a decade. Under the “Sunshine Policy,” between 1998 to 2008, South Korea offered 7.2 billion dollars worth of aid and 800 thousands of tons of food in order to not only secure people’s rights in North but also to stop the military threats (Petrov, 40).

South Korea’s peaceful policy, in short term, resulted in more active political contact with North, but ended up with no positive change. Regardless of the South’s effort for peace, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in 2006, which threatened the safety of South Korea. Moreover, North Korea never acknowledged its responsibility for any of its military attacks.

In 2008, the tide turned in the relationship between North and South Korea by the new government led by President Lee Myung Bak. In an interview, President Lee stated that “North Korea has failed to learn from the carrots South Korea patiently dangled during over the past 10 years,” and described the time spent on the Sunshine policy as the “lost ten years” (Lee 4). These words of his show his strong opposition to Sunshine policy and determination to reverse the situation. Since his election in 2008, he has implemented to more aggressive and direct hardline policy, ending the era of unconditional concessions to the North. Sparked by the shift in the South Korean government’s foreign policy, the long simmering political tensions between the two Koreas were brought to the highest point.

The sinking of the South Korean military vessel, the ROKS Cheonan, which evidence suggests was committed by North Korea, was the first direct attack from North Korea. Investigations conducted by many different countries including South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, concluded that the warship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. North Korean denial of its responsibility for the sinking increased the distrust toward the unpredictable nature of Kim Jong Il’s regime.

The actual artillery engagement between North and South Korea, known as Bombardment of YeonPyeong Island took place on the following November, bringing the tension to a climax. North Korea fired around 170 artillery shells and rockets toward not only military but also civilian targets on YeonPyeong Island. UN ambassador Bill Richardson stated that the military engagement was “one of the most serious crisis on Korean Peninsula since the end of Korean War” (18 Richardson) South Korea, however, did not react, holding onto its naïve belief that its peaceful approach will eventually be reciprocated by North Korea. Many people often consider the Korean War as having ended when the armistice was signed in 1953. Fighting on Korean Peninsula may have stopped and the traces of the war have been slowly effaced, but the Korean peninsula has remained politically, economically, and social volatile.

History | Asia | Military | Korea

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